by Dianne L. Durante
Reading New York: "Tales From Mr. Untouchable, and a Stroll Among the Statues," by Sam Roberts
Nicky Barnes cited the statute of limitations. In “Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide” (NYU Press, $18.95 paperback, $60 cloth), Dianne Durante suggests that there are few limitations to statues.
“They can make you stop, look and think when you’d swear your brain was too tired to function,” she writes. “The achievements and the virtues of the people represented in these statues can help supply the emotional fuel — the psychological energy — that keeps you going.”
Her guidebook is a perfect walking-tour accompaniment to help New Yorkers and visitors find, identify and better appreciate statues famous and obscure (honoring, among others, the “father of gynecology” and the general who had an unremarkable military and business career but composed taps, the bugle call).
While the tone is sometimes preachy and pedantic (the book concludes with a tutorial on how to read a sculpture), Ms. Durante winsomely places 54 monuments in historical and artistic perspective.
We learn that a trumpet is an allegory for announcing fame, that the monument to Admiral Farragut in Madison Square Park altered the course of American sculpture, that the figure with the winged hat atop Grand Central Terminal is Mercury and that the statue of Atlas at Rockefeller Center was reviled when it was unveiled in 1937 because it supposedly resembled Mussolini.
Let’s hope Ms. Durante follows up in the other four boroughs.
Anyone whose curiosity has ever been piqued by the peculiar mixture of historical statues that ornament the grounds of Central Park will find Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide by Dianne Durante a satisfying read. Encompassing the entire borough, Durante begins her tour with the Statue of Liberty and works her way north to El Sid [sic] Campeador at West 155th St. A map in the front of the book displays each work’s location in order of what would be a lengthy walking tour.
Each of the 54 entries has a black and white image for reference and basic information on the sculptor, date, medium, dimensions, location, and directions to reaching the site by subway. Durante places the monuments in context by providing a brief literary or historical quotation relating to each subject before detailing the history surrounding the work’s conception and realization. Readers are encouraged to observe closely the significance of details that may be missed in a passing glance or even to the naked eye. The entries provide background on each work’s origin, explaining, for example, how a statue of the medieval Polish king Jagiello came to be in New York alongside more predictable allegorical and American patriotic figures. A brief history of the subject is also provided, including enough lively anecdotes and obscure facts to entice all readers. The appendices include a formulaic - though potentially instructive - guide for viewing sculpture, a list of the works in chronological order, and brief biographies of the artists.
This collection of facts, though somewhat elementary in tone, provides a useful tool to those seeking concise yet wide-ranging information on Manhattan’s many historical public works. In a city whose focus is ever forward, it is worthwhile to pause occasionally to consider its history. “For residents and tourists and historians and students who want to spend more time viewing and appreciating sculpture and New York history, Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan is the start of a unique voyage of discovery.”
Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide by Dianne Durante is scheduled for release on February 1, 2007. Published by NYU Press. $18.95 softcover, $60.00 hardcover.
In her Introduction, Durante explains that her approach to teaching art history rests on her understanding of Ayn Rand's work on aesthetics. She says that her problem with most art historians and critics is that they do not offer a proper definition of art, whereas Ayn Rand's defining art as ‘a selective re-creation of reality based on an artist's metaphysical value judgments’ allows her to be able to determine what is and is not art. The importance of Rand is made clear in the Appendix, where the author urges her readers to philosophical, emotional, and art historical evaluations of each sculpture. [Ed: European visitors to the United States may not be so familiar with Rand as American readers.]
The language of the book is friendly and chatty, as if the author were in front of you, conducting an on-site lecture. The photos in the paperback copy are adequate for identification purposes but the paper is too absorbent for any real clarity. Nonetheless, the purpose of the book is to encourage people to go and see the wealth of outdoor sculpture in Manhattan, and the book treats this purpose with the enthusiasm the subjects deserve.
Diane Durante’s “Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan” (OMOM) is a rarity: a book that evaluates art from Ayn Rand’s philosophy of aesthetics — the principles of which she peppers throughout — that highlights Manhattan’s relatively unexplored outdoor sculptures-statues, and that illustrates why they are worthy of such study. ... At its best, OMOM allows readers to observe an Objectivist’s evaluative and theme-capturing thinking methods of many handsome, overlooked works of art. If you seek to develop your ability to objectively evaluate, understand and appreciate art, this book is a must buy.
Quick trivia question: How many memorials of Christopher Columbus are in the New York City parks system? (The answer is below.) One of the memorials — a marble bust at D’Auria-Murphy Triangle in the Belmont section of the Bronx — received a makeover this morning. ...
The answer to the trivia question above: Five. According to Dianne L. Durante, author of “Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan: A Historical Guide” (New York University Press, 2007), the others are the marble statue at Columbus Circle, by Gaetano Russo; the bronze statue on Central Park’s Literary Walk, by Jeronimo Suñol; the statue at Court and Montague Streets, near Brooklyn Borough Hall, by Emma Stebbins (who sculpted the “Angel of the Waters” at Bethesda Fountain in Central Park); and a statue by A. Racioppi at Astoria Boulevard and 32nd Street, near the Queens entrance to the Triborough Bridge.
Avid Columbus fans may want to consult Peter van der Krogt’s Columbus monuments Web site, Ms. Durante suggests.
Manhattan's streets and parks are packed with historic monuments, and some fifty of them are included in OUTDOOR MONUMENTS OF MANHATTAN: A HISTORICAL GUIDE, which offers up background history, surveys of American sculptors, and analysis of each sculpture, its influences, and its history. A 'must' for any Manhattan resident or library seeking background information on the area's best outdoor monuments to use as either a take-along travel tote or a study.
A guide book, a primer on looking at sculpture, and a brief historical overview of New York City’s monuments, Dianne L. Durante’s Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan offers up a wealth of information for both resident and tourist in search of sites along New York’s Streets and Avenues. Includes photos and information on some fifty-four sculptural monuments. **** [of a possible 5 stars]
From a review of an exhibition on Paul Manship:
After the Statue of Liberty, perhaps the most famous public sculpture in New York is Rockefeller Center's Prometheus, who adorns the Lower Plaza. Prometheus, bearer of fire from gods to man, fell afoul of Zeus and was condemned to an eternity of having his liver plucked at by birds. The sculpture has also received some plucks.
As Dianne Durante wisely notes in her new book, "Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan," it's really, really hard to do a statue of a man flying — especially when he doesn't have wings. Consequently, Prometheus looks rather as though he is doing the sidestroke. Or, as he apparently struck some observers in the 1930s, when the sculpture was installed, as though he is not so much flying as falling — perhaps from high in the RCA Building. Did New Yorkers really used to call him "Leaping Louie"? Even the sculptor, Paul Manship, was none too pleased with his own handiwork. ...